No issue is more divisive in America right now than guns. There are few agnostics on this topic: you’re either a gun person or you’re not. And with the increasing frequency of mass shootings, and especially since twenty children were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, most Americans’ views on the subject have only hardened. In mixed company, you’re now wiser to discuss politics or religion.

Until recently, Texans knew little of such divisions. Firearms were so ingrained in this state’s culture and history that they seemed as natural a presence as prickly pear. Families passed down weapons through multiple generations, with children learning to shoot on the same .22 their great-grandparents once owned. Even Texas’s last liberal governor, Ann Richards, loved to hunt dove. But as the national debate has intensified, and as our population has swelled, the fight over firearms has begun to rage here as fiercely as anywhere else—perhaps more so. In January of 2016, Texas became the latest state to permit the open carrying of handguns. And in August public colleges will allow students to carry guns into classrooms; incredibly enough, the measure takes effect on the fiftieth anniversary of the nation’s first campus mass shooting, at the University of Texas. Some people are even deciding to leave Texas, or move here, because of our gun laws.

So it seemed the right moment to examine Texas’s complicated relationship with guns. No matter your stance, you will likely find in the following passages more than a few images and words that please and anger you, that inform and provoke you. We hope you will be surprised, that you will learn something, not only about the weapons themselves but also about the ways other people view them. We may never stop arguing, but we certainly could use a little more enlightenment and understanding—both of guns and of one another.   

The Hunter

Khoa Le has hunting in his blood, and he’s built an online community to share with the world his passion for the chase.

My dad grew up hunting with my grandfather, and it was a big part of their lifestyle. My dad will actually tell you it was born into me. When I was growing up in Austin, my dad was the only one working in my family, so we didn’t have as much time to get outdoors together. He regrets it. I know this because my grandfather just passed away, and when my dad spoke at the funeral, he said he was so excited to see that his dad’s passion for hunting had found its way into me.

I’ve always had a passion for it. In my early twenties, I took it upon myself to beg anyone around to take me out when they were going. Here in Texas, the opportunities are endless. Everyone knows somebody who’s got a piece of property somewhere. If you keep pestering all your friends, someone will eventually take you out.

My first trips out, I wasn’t successful in getting an animal on the ground, but it was still a great time. I was hooked immediately. I loved it. Being outside and seeing things that you wouldn’t see otherwise, unless you were hunting, is really great. When I go turkey hunting, I go bow hunting. So I’ll call them in to within bow-hunting range, which is about 20 to 25 yards, and you’ll get to see the animal in their full mating dance. They’re strutting. They’ll put on a great show for you, and it’s something you would never see otherwise. Things like that really get me going.

To me, guns are tools. The main guns I own—and I don’t own too many of them—they all serve a single purpose. I’ve got one rifle that’s a .30-06 Remington 700, and the reason I own it is because the .30-06 is probably the most versatile for North American hunting. It’s the one cartridge that will essentially take down any North American game. I primarily rely on that as my tool for hunting. When it comes to wing shooting for ducks and dove, I will shoot a 12-gauge shotgun. I’ve got one rifle beyond my .30-06. It’s a .270 that I started with. The only reason I have it is essentially to pass it down to my kids when they start hunting.

I’m a creative director by trade, and I’ve worked on a number of big brands, doing campaigns for Samsung and Pizza Hut. In the hunting industry, up until this point, there wasn’t that type of production value, that type of storytelling. With hunting shows a lot of times, there’s a typical Bubba who shoots a big deer and poses with it. That’s just one part of hunting, and I think a lot of the story was being left unsaid: the journey, seeing the animals come in, and everything you go through to prepare for the hunt and what happens after the hunt, what happens to the meat.

I started the site Tight Lines and Big Tines a little over three years ago. It’s a blog with videos and high-end photography. I wanted to do storytelling in the hunting and fishing space and bring cinematic quality to a wider audience. And I wasn’t going to be able to call somebody and say, “Hey, give me a TV show.”

The number one word I would use to describe it would be “community.” Because it ties back to this idea that everybody hunts a different way, but there is one story that everybody can relate to, and it is that journey of going out there and chasing wild game. Every hunter, no matter where they’re from, how they hunt, everyone does it differently. But at the end of the day, they’re all the same in that they’re going out, enjoying the outdoors, and they’re coming back with meat. They’re coming back with something to put on the table.

It doesn’t get any more free-range and local and organic than when you’re out there chasing deer in your area. It’s a lot more rewarding to go out and source your own food and know where it came from.

I think it’s important to expose my kids to it. If they decide, “It’s not for me,” fine. But I want them to be comfortable knowing that there are firearms in the house and how to operate one.

My oldest daughter actually shot her first deer back in October at the age of ten. I was very nervous going out there. We’d practiced a lot. We’d practiced without any rounds in the rifle. We went through the procedure, gun safety. We would go through that procedure hundreds of times. Knowing when to turn the safety on, not putting her finger on the trigger. Then we would graduate into shooting live rounds. Then, once I thought she was ready, we booked a hunt. Going down there, I was still nervous, man. It’s one thing to go through dry fire and practicing with targets. It’s another thing when the animal walks out there. You know, as a full-grown man who’s hunted deer for a little bit now, I still get buck fever and get nervous when the animal walks out there. I didn’t know how she was going to react when an animal walked out there. I didn’t know if she was going to be nervous, if that was going to affect her shot, if that was going to throw her off. She ended up handling it really, really well. She ended up taking a doe. She was thrilled. I was thrilled—and relieved. —As told to Dave Mann

The Gun-Control Activist

After tragedy struck her family in 2013, Leslie Ervin began working to prevent someone suffering a mental health crisis from possessing firearms—someone like her son.

Ialways had this feeling that Lex wasn’t okay. He was born in 1992, but it wasn’t until he hit fourth grade that we learned something was really not okay. That’s when Lex was diagnosed with Asperger’s.

Doctors said there was no medication that Lex could take. We brought him to therapy because they recommended role-playing-type things. But he hated it. He often just sat passively looking out the window for the entire hour. We tried everything. Nothing helped.

We’ve lived in Austin with the kids since 1999. When Lex was younger, he would play with his three siblings. They’re all one year apart, and Lex is the oldest. But as he grew up, he became verbally abusive, and the more they kind of became afraid of him. When Lex started becoming more critical in his illness—I would say it was in eighth grade. And we didn’t realize it, but I believe he started showing signs of schizophrenia. Then he started getting more and more detached the older he got, which is a pattern. Kids hit their late teens, and that’s when schizophrenia kicks in. He was spending more time alone, more time in his room.

That was all up until his eighteenth birthday. That was the day I got a call from Joe McBride up at McBride’s gun store. As soon as they opened, Lex walked in there and tried to buy a gun. Joe said, “Your son’s here. He looks like he’s on PCP, and I’m not selling him a gun.”

All of a sudden, I felt that we had entered a very, very dangerous zone. I called the police, and the crisis-intervention team came over, and they sat down with [my husband] Scott and me. They said, based on their talk with Lex, “We agree with you that this young man is unstable, in crisis. We don’t exactly know what’s going on, but we do not believe that he should have firearms.”

But they said there’s nothing they could do to prevent Lex from buying a firearm. There had to be an incident. Like he had to be arrested for some reason. He needed to be found a danger to himself or others before the law would get involved.

He went to Academy and Cabela’s and started buying guns. He bought pistols, he had a long gun.

Scott was an attorney, and he said, “There’s nothing we can do right now.” We couldn’t commit him long-term, because at that point he was an adult and he refused to get treatment. The police agreed he was unstable, and they basically said, “We’re so sorry, ma’am. There’s nothing we can do to help you.”

That’s when we really started getting scared, because he had guns now. But Scott always said, “We just have to love him unconditionally. We can’t change him. He’s not going to hurt anybody. He’s our son.” This is the worst part. You don’t know somebody’s going to do something till they do it.

But I’ll tell you, toward the end, this is what happened. One night in 2013, Lex said to Scott, “Come outside. I want you to look at the Skilsaw. It’s not working.” So Scott gets up and walks around to the side of our house, where it’s dark, and Scott said that as he was walking out there, the hair on the back of his neck started to stand up. Scott begins bending down to get the saw, and he turns around and looks at Lex, and Lex has a pipe wrench raised. Scott says, “Lex! What are you doing?” And Lex, of course, says, “Ha! Did I scare ya?” Which is what he would always say.

The next night, Lex again came in and said, “Come out and help me fix the Skilsaw.” And Scott said, “No, I’m not going out there at night.” Scott, at that point, was scared. He said to me, “I think Lex is trying to kill me.”

I asked him, “What’s going to happen?”

Scott said, “Well, if there’s an altercation, I hope I prevail. But if I don’t, if Lex kills me, I know you guys will be safe and Lex will get the help he needs, finally.”

It was just any other day. I came home from work at five o’clock. I had a dinner planned with friends, and I was saying, “I’m tired. I don’t know if I’m going to go out.” Lex said, “You should. You never go out.”

So I said goodbye to Scott. Lex had been kind of pacing around, which is not unusual for him. He paced. But he was waiting for me to leave, of course. I pulled out of the driveway, and he must have gone right in and done it.

I got to the restaurant, walked in, sat down, and [my youngest son] Max called. I answered it and Max is screaming, “Lex stabbed Scott! Come home!”

The way that it happened—well, the police said Lex walked in and hit Scott on the back of the head with a pipe wrench. Scott spun around in his chair, and Lex stabbed him twice. And those two puncture wounds were fatal. The ER doc would say that once he was hit with that knife, even if there was an operating table in that room, we couldn’t have saved him.

But it takes a long time for someone to bleed out. Scott called for Max and was yelling at Lex, “No! No!” Max ran in and grabbed Lex. And Lex was saying, “Stand back. I’m a trained assassin. I work for the CIA. This man is an impostor. He’s going to kill the family, and I’m here to protect you.”

Max was able to pull Lex away. Finally, they broke a vase over Lex’s head. At that point, Max walked Scott out into the kitchen, laid him down on the floor, and stayed with him until EMS came.

That was all by—I left at 6:20—it was by 7:15 that all this happened. On that beautiful summer evening.

Lex was found not guilty by reason of insanity. By the grace of God, he is now getting help at the North Texas State Hospital, in Vernon. They’re kind to him there.

After the period where I was putting my life back together, the first thing I wanted to do was get involved with NAMI [the National Alliance on Mental Illness]. At the same time, I started working with Texas Gun Sense [a group advocating “commonsense” gun control], because I realized what was necessary was a gun-violence protective order, which could have temporarily taken away Lex’s guns, because he was clearly unstable.

It’s not complicated. People who are in crisis should not be allowed to purchase or own firearms. “Crisis” being the key word. “Crisis” means not in your right mind.

Had we had a gun-violence protective order as a law in Texas, when I called the police and said that my mentally ill son in crisis had guns, they would have interviewed him. If they agreed he shouldn’t have guns, they would have confiscated his guns pending an evaluation by a professional.

And if he’d been diagnosed schizophrenic, and if he’d gone on medication, then he might have been able to get his guns back. But unfortunately, we don’t have that law in Texas.

Lex did not shoot Scott. Let’s be clear. He stabbed Scott. But if he hadn’t been subdued and arrested, if he’d been alone and killed Scott, who knows what he would have done next? He had an arsenal of guns. He’s not going to stay home and watch TV. It’s quite likely he would have taken his guns and hurt innocent people. But thank God he didn’t, and we’ll never know.

One out of five people experiences a mental illness. They take medication. They’re productive members of society. They can go purchase firearms, and it’s fine. But it’s someone like Lex, who’s clearly in crisis, who should not be allowed.

When I sit down and tell my story, I ask, “Do you think that a young man who would murder his dad a month later with a knife should be allowed to own firearms?” I don’t think there’s one person who would say yes. This would be an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic having delusions going and purchasing firearms. I haven’t met one person at the Texas Capitol who has said yes.

And I hope that this is something that can become a law in Texas. It can save lives. So I’m going to keep going down there, keep telling my story over and over. I can’t not do it. This is a way to take something terrible and use it for a greater good and to help others. It’s what Scott would have wanted. —As told to Dave Mann

The Gun-Rights Advocate

On October 16, 1991, when Suzanna Hupp went to lunch with her parents at a Luby’s in Killeen, she had to leave her revolver in the car. That’s when the shooting started.

I did not grow up in a house with guns. When I was eighteen and moved out on my own, a friend of mine gave me a handgun and taught me how to use it. Fast-forwarding a bit, I went and became a chiropractor, and shortly after that, in my first year out of school, one of my patients was an assistant DA in Harris County. I was living just outside Houston, in Pasadena. He used to come in on a regular basis and would ask me about my gun. And I would tell him, “You know, I don’t carry it with me all the time, because, of course, that’s illegal.” I remember vividly him saying, “You need to carry it. You’re a single woman in a big city. You need to carry it.”

I did begin to carry it. At that time, it was illegal in the state of Texas. But I bought a purse that was specially made for concealed carry. Didn’t carry it all the time, but I carried it much of the time.

In 1991 I was with my parents at a local Luby’s cafeteria in Killeen. We were eating lunch with a friend of mine who was also the manager of the restaurant. We’d finished eating when a madman drove his truck through the window and very methodically began executing people with a handgun. And it took a good 45 seconds, which is an eternity, to realize that that’s what he was there to do. At that time, the mass shootings that we see frequently now were not occurring. So it wasn’t the first thing that came to your mind.

My purse was on the floor next to me. I actually reached for it. I used to carry that gun in my purse, but I’d taken it out about three months earlier, leaving it in my car, because I was concerned about losing my license to practice as a chiropractor. I was afraid that if I got caught, I’d go to jail. So my gun was a hundred yards away, completely useless.

Could I have hit the guy? He was fifteen feet from me. He was up. Everybody in the restaurant was down. I’ve hit much smaller targets at much greater distances. Was I completely prepared to do it? Absolutely. Could my gun have jammed? It’s a revolver, so it’s possible, but is it likely? Could I have missed? Yeah, it’s possible. But the one thing nobody can argue with is that it would have changed the odds.

Twenty-three people were killed, including my parents.

I’m telling you, we were like fish in a barrel. Sitting there waiting for it to be your turn is not a fun place to be. Anyone who thinks differently, I try to put them in that same situation in their mind, only instead of having their parents with them, having their kids with them. And as that madman is leveling his weapon at your two-year-old’s forehead, even if you’ve chosen not to have a gun, don’t you hope the guy behind you has one and knows how to use it? To me, it’s cut-and-dried.

I decided to talk to the media, and I made it crystal clear that I was mad at the Legislature, because they had legislated me out of the right to protect myself and my family. Even now I get angry thinking about it. That’s always been my dominant emotion. I get—not sad—I get angry.

I’ve been on every slime-bag talk show you can imagine—and some of them twice. I would always wash my hands well after I finished, but I think I’m glad I did them. I testified in a couple dozen states and hopefully helped to change a vote or two.

People would ask me to run for the Legislature, but I held off for a long time, because I couldn’t afford it. As you well know, the Legislature here doesn’t pay. So eventually when we felt like we could afford to have an absence from my clinic, I ran and was fortunate enough to be elected.

It was a great experience. If money were no object, I would run for office again in a heartbeat [Hupp left the Legislature in 2007]. It was really a wonderful experience overall, though Lord knows there were moments when a stiff drink was called for.

Huge strides for gun rights have been made not only in Texas but across the U.S. When I first started doing this, there were only a handful of states that had any kind of concealed carry at all. Now I think all states do. Some of the laws are still a bit onerous.

One of my bugaboos is gun laws. Anytime we list a place where you can’t carry guns, to me, that’s like a shopping list for a madman. If I’m a crazy guy who wants to rack up a high body count, I’m not going to go to an NRA convention. I’m not going to go to the gun show or places where there are thousands of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens. I’m going to go where somebody has said that guns aren’t allowed. If you think about nearly every one of these mass shootings, they have occurred at places where guns weren’t allowed. That’s frustrating to me, particularly when you talk about schools. Where do these madmen go? They go to schools and slaughter people.

I don’t have any love for guns, one way or the other. I don’t care about them. They’re just a tool. Having a gun is never a guarantee either. But it changes the odds. It just changes the odds. —As told to Dave Mann

The Police Officer

For Houston police officer Joe Gamaldi, a sidearm is just part of the job—but it has saved his life.

Guns weren’t part of the culture where I grew up, in New York. My father had a gun for protection, but it was never shown to me. Coming down to Houston, the gun culture was a lot different. Most officers here have grown up around guns. People don’t have gun racks on their trucks or anything like that in New York City.

I was hired by the New York City Police Department in 2005, and the academy was the first time I fired or handled a gun. By the end of academy, the gun was no longer a scary unknown. I understood that my gun is my tool. For daily police work, a pistol is for the most part adequate. I chose to carry a Smith & Wesson 9 mm, silver with a black handle. It gave me fifteen rounds in the magazine, one in the chamber, sixteen shots total.

My foot post was in the worst neighborhood in Brooklyn and hearing gunshots was common. On one of my shifts, probably 1:30 or 2 in the morning, I heard five or six gunshots down the block from where I was standing. I saw a man on the opposite sidewalk with a gun in his hand. My first thought was I was going to run and tackle the guy, because I never thought he would lift his gun and shoot at a police officer. It all moved very fast until he pointed his gun at me. Then time slowed. I saw the flashes from his gun, but to this day I have no memory of the sound. I could only focus on his gun. We were about ten feet apart, and he fired two shots at me. I went for my gun. My first shot was from my hip. Then I extended my arm and aimed at him. I fired my second shot. He was running, but I could tell I hit him in the shoulder, because I saw his body turn. He didn’t fall, but the bullet turned him. I chased after him and saw the blood. By that time I had called for backup, and we traced him to a housing project. He was hiding in his friend’s apartment, and we took him into custody.

I had some time off after the shooting. Everybody deals with shootings in a different way, but I didn’t have too much of an issue; I just kind of moved on. But on my first day back, my very first call was a dispute with a man with a gun. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I didn’t want to have to shoot someone again. It ended up being nothing.

I moved to Houston after about three years. I wanted a better quality of life. New York is very expensive, especially on a policeman’s salary. I definitely see more guns here, and most people are carrying legally. Having someone tell me they have a gun in the vehicle during a routine traffic stop is a big change. I haven’t seen anyone open-carrying, but I do get plenty of questions about it from citizens. I think it’s always better to conceal. If you’re in a situation that requires a gun, it’s better to have the element of surprise. From the position of a policeman, open carry could make the officer’s job more difficult. If I’m on a call and there’s a disturbance, I’m going to be paying most attention to the guy with the gun strapped on his hip. But we haven’t had any issues with it. I haven’t seen anyone at the local Starbucks carrying yet. The main thing is that criminals are pretty consistent. New York City had very strict gun laws, and the criminals still had guns.

A few years ago, we had a string of aggravated robberies in my area around Acres Homes, in north Houston. We didn’t know the suspect’s identity, but we knew his vehicle and license plate number. It was a Nissan Xterra, and on one of my shifts, right around three o’clock in the morning, I saw that Xterra. I had to decide whether to trail him and call for backup or pull him over immediately on my own. I was by myself, but I had my gun. If I had been a rookie, maybe I would have tried to follow him and wait for backup, but I didn’t want to lose him. You have to weigh personal safety versus the public safety. This guy had done about a dozen robberies, and he’d shot and killed someone. There was no end in sight. I turned on my lights, and he pulled over. My gun was pulled as soon as I got out of my patrol car. I’m yelling for him to get out of the car. I could see his hands, but he wasn’t stepping out. I approached his vehicle, and I’m yelling at him. My gun is on him the entire time, and he sees my gun pointed at him. Finally he put his hands out of the window. He decided to give himself up instead of shooting it out with me. That incident sticks out in my mind because he had guns in the car and I was able to get him in custody without pulling the trigger. I’m proud of that.

I recently spoke to some high school seniors here in Houston, and a seventeen-year-old kid told me he’s scared that if he’s stopped by police, he’s going to get dragged out and killed. I saw in his eyes he believed it. That broke my heart. No one likes to see officers use force. It’s ugly. But the fact is, evil people are out here. Getting shot at in New York was a learning moment. I was a dumb rookie. It made me realize I can’t be naive about evil people. —As told to Paul Knight

The Chaplain

As a trauma chaplain, Sharon Risher has often seen the devastating power of gun violence. Last June she felt it herself.

I grew up in Charleston, born and raised. When Martin Luther King came to Charleston, back in the late sixties, they had a banquet at the auditorium for him. I remember listening to Martin Luther King—not really being able to see him because I was sitting way in the back—but I remember thinking to myself, “One day I want to be able to stand up and talk to people like that.” I didn’t know it then, but that seed was planted in my spirit about being a communicator and being able to talk to people.

I have not lived in the city of Charleston in over 35 years, since I went away to college in North Carolina. I moved to Texas to attend Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I started working at Parkland [Memorial Hospital, in Dallas] as a trauma chaplain in 2012. When a level one comes in to the emergency room, that’s my cue to get to the trauma area. Every two weeks, I see probably seven to eight patients who have had some kind of gun violence committed against them. And a lot of these guns that these people are using are not guns that were bought legally. They’re guns that were bought off the street. A lot of the time, you’ve got people who are being hurt by guns who are brought to Parkland, where there is no insurance required but they can get world-class care. So think about the amount of money that Dallas County is spending on people because of gun violence and because guns are readily available.

Last June 17, I was at work helping a family whose grandpa had died. I needed to go back to my office to get some paperwork. I had left my phone plugged in on my desk, and the spirit of the Lord said, check your phone. So I went over to my phone, and I had six missed calls from my daughter. I called her back, and she said, “Mom, there was a shooting at the church.” So I asked, “What church?” She said, “Granny’s church.”

My mom, Ethel Lance, joined Emanuel A.M.E. Church in 1974. If you were under her roof, you were getting up and going to church. She started working as a sexton there to make extra money less than five years ago. Her heart and soul were in that church, and she was proud to keep it clean and nice.

When I heard that something had happened at Mother Emanuel, there were going to be two possibilities: that my mom was going to be a witness or that she had gotten shot, because there’s nowhere she would have been other than that church. But I had to go back upstairs to the family who lost granddaddy without knowing really what happened.

When I finally got off work, I had to stop twice on the way home because I was too nervous to drive. I knew in my heart my mom was dead, but it wasn’t until about 2 a.m. that I had confirmation. For the next two days, I was in my apartment moving around in a damn fog. I was watching TV. I just had to see everything, because I kept thinking, “Maybe this wasn’t real.” I felt like I couldn’t miss anything, so I sat there by myself and watched TV.

That little boy [Dylann Roof] was just pure evil, that’s just all there is to it. I just don’t think, as a human, if you had planned to do something like that, and you went into that church where those people invited you, they opened their arms to you, and you sat there and listened to the word of God, and then you shoot them when they’re praying? That’s evil. My mother was the last person that he killed, the last one. And he also killed my cousins, Tywanza Sanders and Susie Jackson. I will never be the same person, my family won’t ever be the same. Whatever we thought we had, it won’t ever be the same.

There has to be some kind of accountability with guns; gun laws need to have some reform. I stand up for every American’s Second Amendment right to bear arms. But if someone is going through legal channels to obtain a gun, they should be required to complete all the steps in order to purchase a gun. In [Roof’s] situation, the background check ultimately was not completed, but the gun dealer still had the legal right to sell this gun due to a loophole in the law, and then that gun was used to kill nine people.

I’m always going to come from a religious context, but when I started getting involved with gun reform, I thought to myself, “God has put me in Texas, one of the craziest states with their gun laws, to fight against guns.” How crazy is that? That I’m here, trying to get things to change in a state that is bound and determined to have guns as an everyday part of people’s lives without any, I feel, moral accountability. Just look at the new open carry and campus carry laws. The UT campus system is allowing college kids to have guns! I mean, they’re trying to arm teachers. I just don’t understand this.

I jumped on the Everytown for Gun Safety [a gun-control advocacy group] bandwagon after Lucy McBath, the national spokesperson for one of their campaigns, sent me a handwritten letter. Lucy is the mother of Jordan Davis, who was killed in Jacksonville, Florida, by a white man who thought the music in the car he was riding in was playing too loudly. I felt compelled that somebody would reach out to me that way, so I called her, and from that conversation, I knew that this group was one I needed to be a part of. This group, along with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, has become my support network. Those have been the people that I know that I can call anytime because they know exactly how I feel—someone has been taken from them the same way, unnaturally, so everything that you feel, they already know. Everybody’s circumstances might be different, but the feelings and the grief and the pain are the same, and by talking to them, you start to realize that you ain’t the only one.

The next thing I knew, they were flying me out to D.C. to go to a rally on Capitol Hill and booking me for an interview with CNN. Now I’ve made six trips to D.C. and New York for this work. I kind of knew that I had the power to reach people on a small level, because in ministry that’s what you do, and because I’m a chaplain, I know the impact that my work has had on people. And that’s why it is so important to me, because you have an impact when you’re dealing with people in some of the most difficult times they’re ever going to have. The kind of care that they get from a chaplain will set the tone for their whole experience.

This fight about guns sometimes seems overwhelming and daunting. And you say to yourself, just like other people are saying to you, “You’re not going to change anything.” But I beg to differ, because I feel like one less gun on the street means one less person has to die.

So if there are positive things that have come out of this—even though Momma and my cousins and everybody else died—good things are going to come. Just like what they say in the Bible, what you meant for evil, God meant for good. —As told to Sonia Smith